As a high school freshman, Christin Anson was playing a soccer game when an opposing player managed to kick her in the back of the head. At first she tried to shake it off (another example of why parents and coaches need to be vigilant), and continued to play until the game ended. “I just thought I’d have a headache for a day or two,” she now says when reflecting on the situation. But what she got were a series of debilitating symptoms: trouble concentrating, delayed reactions, bad balance. The same teen who at one time had been an honor student fell to a third-grade level in terms of reading comprehension. It took her a full year of intensive neurological therapy to recover. (Gregory, 2007)
List of common concussion symptoms
Following a blow to the head, concussed individuals may experience any number of persisting concussion symptoms. The most common ones are things like…
- Mental fog
- Trouble concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Short temper or behavioral changes
(See our signs of concussion page for a full list of concussion symptoms)
How long do concussion symptoms last?
“Properly managed,” says neuroscientist Robert Cantu, “roughly 80% of people will recover within seven to 10 days; 20% will go on and have symptoms that last beyond that time. Somewhere between 5% and 10% will go on to have post-concussion syndrome, in which symptoms last beyond a month. Most of those with post-concussion syndrome will recover, but some will take even over a year to recover, and a very small number will never recover.” (Healy, 2012)
There is no way to guess how long symptoms will last from person to person. It used to be believed that getting knocked out represented a more severe concussion than simply getting your bell rung, and therefore would translate into a longer recovery time with more symptoms. Yet recent research has shown there is no correlation between the severity of the concussion and the degree of post-concussion symptoms.
Interestingly enough, the only thing that seems to be related to recovery time is a person’s medical and mental health history: those who previously struggled with migraine or motion sickness have higher rates of persistent symptoms, and the most robust risk factor is actually prior mental health issues. Two separate studies in 2015, one that studied 72 soldiers with blast-related concussions and another that examined 77 civilians with sports accident-related concussions, both found that the presence of posttraumatic anxiety, depression, or other symptoms of mental disorder were linked to a prolonged recovery. (Schrock-Simring, 2015)
“When a patient comes into a clinic,” says concussion researcher Noah Silverberg, “there are lots of questions asked about the nature of the injury, the mechanics, how and where you hit your head. As far as we know none of that matters. Clinicians should actually inquire about how concerned patients are about the fact that they’ve had a concussion and whether they’ve struggled with mental illness in the past.” (ibid, p. 57)
Post-concussion symptoms can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of years or more, depending on the individual case in question. When symptoms persist for a month or more after a concussion, it is referred to as post concussion syndrome, and a child may need rehabilitative therapy in order to get back to normal.
Dealing with persistent concussion symptoms
Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of focus given to this issue among general practitioners. Dr. Douglas Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury & Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, says that many patients wind up frustrated with the fact that they’re “shown out of the ER and left in the wind” with little guidance on how to manage long-term symptoms. (SchrockSimring, 2016, p. 55) You should try to schedule a follow-up visit with your doctor to check on any persisting symptoms, and ask them for a referral to a concussion specialist if symptoms do not seem to be going away on their own.